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Genes Cancer. 2011 Jan;2(1):74-87. doi: 10.1177/1947601911402681.

Chitinase-like proteins are autoantigens in a model of inflammation-promoted incipient neoplasia.

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College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.


An important role for B cells and immunoglobulin deposition in the inflammatory tumor cell environment has been recognized in several cancers, and this is recapitulated in our murine model of inflammation-associated carcinogenesis: transgenic mice expressing the Epstein-Barr virus oncogene LMP1 in epithelia. Similarly in several autoimmune disorders, immunoglobulin deposition represents a key underlying event in the disease process. However, the autoantigens in most cases are not known. In other studies, overexpression of the enzymatically inactive mammalian chitinase-like proteins (CLPs) has been observed in a number of autoimmune disorders and numerous cancers, with expression correlated with poor prognosis, although the function of these proteins is largely unknown. We have now linked these observations demonstrating that overexpression of the CLPs renders them the targets for autoantigenicity during carcinogenic progression. We show that the CLPs, Chi3L1, Chi3L3 /YM1, and Chi3L4/YM2, are abundantly overexpressed in the transgenic epidermis at an early, preneoplastic stage and secreted into the serum. Immunoglobulin G reactive to the CLPs is detected in the serum and deposited in the hyperplastic tissue, which goes on to become inflamed and progressively displastic. The CLPs are also upregulated in chemical carcinogen-promoted lesions in both transgenic and wild-type mice. Expression of the related, active chitinases, Chit1 and AMCase, increases following infiltration of inflammatory cells. In this model, the 3 CLPs are autoantigens for the tissue-deposited immunoglobulin, which we propose plays a causative role in promoting the inflammation-associated carcinogenesis. This may reflect their normal, benign function to promote tissue remodeling and to amplify immune responses. Their induction during carcinogenesis and consequent autoantigenicity provides a missing link between the oncogenic event and subsequent inflammation. This study identifies the CLPs as important and novel therapeutic targets to limit inflammation in cancer and potentially also autoimmune disorders.


EBV; LMP1; carcinoma; chitinase-like protein; inflammation

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